Raw food diets for dogs are controversial. Proponents claim that raw diets improve dogs' health, boost their immune system, help maintain clean teeth and eliminate grain or processed food allergies.
Critics warn that raw diets are not safe because of the dangers of bacteria, the perceived danger of dogs choking on raw bones or the worry that diets will be unbalanced.
Raw feeding for the family dog is a relatively recent practice, attributed to Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst, who in the early 1990's created the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or BARF diet.
Homemade or Packaged
You can prepare your own raw dog food or purchase ready-made complete or partial diets. Preparing raw diets can be more costly, time-consuming and complicated than opening a can or measuring kibble.
Some veterinarians worry about the risks of raw feeding, but problems with commercial pet food recalls have led some pet owners to feel more comfortable feeding fresh foods they prepare themselves.
Since Ian Billinghurst's book, "Give Your Dog a Bone," was published, people have created other raw dog foods. Many cities have raw dog food cooperatives, where owners save money by ordering together and dividing large quantities of meat and bones.
Most raw dog foods, whether you buy prepared diets or make your own, contain at least one raw protein, such as chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, duck, bison or any other available fresh meat or poultry.
Diets also can include organ meat, bones, vegetables, fruits and eggs, as well as supplements such as fish or salmon oil, vitamin E, probiotics, multivitamins and green food blends.
One kind of raw feeding is called the "prey model," designed to imitate the diet of the wild wolf. This diet is based on feeding whole prey, with no additional ingredients like dairy, vegetables, fruit or supplements.
The prey diet involves feeding large chunks of meat and small amounts of bone, organs and eggs. Because feeding your dog farm-raised animals is not the same as a wolf eating wild prey, important nutrients may be missing. In a Whole Dog Journal article, Mary Straus explains, "Even if you feed whole rabbits or chickens, the nutrition will not match that of the large ruminants that our dogs evolved to eat."
Commercial Raw Diets
Commercial raw diets can be fresh or frozen, and come in two distinct styles. The first is a complete diet that meets Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrient requirements. Complete commercial raw diets include ingredients in addition to meat, bone and organs, and, while convenient, they are expensive. Examples include Primal Formulas, Steve's Real Food, Nature's Variety Raw Frozen Formulas and Darwin's.
The second style provides basic ingredients to be combined with other foods to create a complete diet. Examples are Oma's Pride, Bravo! and Primal Grinds and Mixes.
Homemade Raw Dog Food
Homemade raw dog food diets should contain a variety of different foods, including different types of meat, organs, eggs and dairy; plus lightly cooked or pureed fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, legumes, green beans, squash and apples; and raw meaty bones.
Dehydrated Raw Dog Food
Dehydrated raw dog foods have all natural, human-grade ingredients, considered raw because the dehydration process uses moderate temperatures. Premium dehydrated dog foods are easy to store, simple to prepare and naturally nutritious, because dehydration removes only the water content, leaving vitamins, minerals, enzymes and nutrients intact.
Dehydrated raw dog food manufacturers such as Honest Kitchen, N-R-G, Addiction, Only Natural and Paw Naturaw offer either complete meat-based meals or "foundation" mixes to which you just add meat.
Raw Meaty Bones
The use of raw bones, considered a biologically appropriate food, is one controversial aspect of the BARF dog diet. For most dogs, whole raw meaty bones are safe, promote good health and help keep a dogs teeth clean by removing plaque and tartar; plus, dogs love the way they taste.
For people who worry that raw bones are dangerous, Dr. Billinghurst's website advises, "Do not stop feeding bones ... simply use bones that have been finely ground."